After 50 Years of Hip-Hop, its Relationship with Jewellery Lives On

From gold chains to gilded grills, jewellery has always been an intrinsic part of the culture

Selina Denman
Sarah Maisey
Aug 11, 2023

From the simple gold chains sported by the pioneering rappers of the 1970s to the bold, customized creations of the 1990s and the bejewelled “sky’s-the-limit” pieces of the 2000s, the worlds of hip-hop and jewellery have always been immutably linked.

Hip-hop’s decades-long love affair with jewellery has also birthed dookie ropes, nameplate necklaces, four-finger rings and bejewelled grills.

“I’ve been telling stories with my attire and adornments for as long as I’ve been telling them with beats and rhymes,” rapper Slick Rick writes in the foreword to Vikki Tobak’s new book, Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History, touching on how clothing and accessories are as integral to hip-hop culture as the music itself.

Firmly embedded in the aesthetic, these adornments became physical manifestations of status, upward mobility and changed circumstances despite the odds. They told stories of ancestry, the self and the struggle, and acted as markers of allegiance and aspiration. They were much more than mere trinkets.

“My jewels are my superhero suits, an extension of my beautiful brown skin,” Slick Rick continues. “It’s a gift from ancestors who sat on thrones and reigned with rings and rocks the size of ice cubes.”

He writes about coming across a huge Libra pendant in the window of a jewellery store on New York’s Canal Street in the mid-1980s. He continued coveting the piece (even though he is a Capricorn) and with “time, patience, hard work and success” was able to walk into that shop nine months later and pay for it in cash. “Jewellery speaks silently but screams personality,” he says. “Displaying our opulence affirms the traditions and wealth of our culture.”

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